Six entrepreneurs, six regrets: lessons learned in 2016 and how they will be applied next year


Entrepreneurship is a lifelong learning process, with the incredible highs AND the devastating lows each offering lessons that help determine the way forward in business. While deconstructing setbacks can be painful, any failure you don’t learn from in business is a wasted opportunity. 

Here, six Aussie entrepreneurs share their key regrets in business from 2016 and how the lessons they’ve learned this year will inform the direction their businesses take in 2017

Nick Bell, founder and MD, WME

One thing wish I had done differently…

NickbellI would have been more cautious with placing my trust in people. It’s been a great year in business but I’ve been let down a few times which means my guard is up for 2017. There were instances this year where I really needed a third person verifying work rather than spreading myself too thin. It was challenging and at times trust was an issue.

On the flipside, it emphasised the importance of knowing your business from the ground-up and being careful about who you bring into certain areas of the business.

Biggest learnings…

From a professional standpoint, I’ve become much more analytical when it comes to investing in projects. 2016 has taught me to adopt a more measured approach – I’m less impulsive in business, and I’m planting a stronger focus on numbers and management.

The birth of my daughter earlier this year has also taught me plenty of lessons, both professional and personal. In the first instance, it’s made me hungrier for success so that I can become a good role model for her. However, it’s also instilled a stronger sense of altruism in me. It’s fast-forwarded that concept of wanting to give back and involve myself much more in charity.

Alex Louey, co-founder and MD, Appscore

AlexLoueyOne thing wish I had done differently…

Some of our ideas for expansion didn’t go as planned, and there was a point this year where I got a little bit complacent when things were going great, which had some negative consequences on the company. Nothing dramatic, but our growth rate slowed a little.

Biggest learnings…

Never take your eye off the ball. Thankfully, I was able to recognise the above and turn it around, but it took about a month of hard work. There’s nothing like having your best mate as a co-founder who doesn’t mince words as well.

I also learned just how important it is to keep your staff engaged in your vision. Our company grew exponentially this year, which meant our operations got more complex and sophisticated. When the entire team is engaged and has a clear mission, you rely less on policies and process. That’s when creativity and innovation start taking over to truly become a great company.

Taryn Williams, founder and CEO, The Right Fit

TarynOne thing wish I had done differently…

The one thing I would have done differently this year, was say “no” more often!

It’s something I’ve struggled with, and really only have just started getting better at (and is on my new year’s resolutions list!).

I often agree to things like meetings that could have been phone calls, attending events because I feel obliged, mentoring people because I want to pay it forward, assisting every charity that reaches out to us, meeting deadlines I know are unrealistic, and end up putting an undue amount of pressure on myself, purely because I’m bad at saying no! It takes a huge personal toll.

Biggest learnings…

This year I will be more strategic in what I agree to, and find compromises or say no when I can!

I recently attended Summit at Sea, a conference on a cruise ship off Miami with no wifi, no phones, no computers or tablets, just communication and ideas. I learnt so many great things here but a few of the best were

  • Disconnect to reconnect: I was forced to talk to strangers, to be fully present and make that human connection. It was powerful and made me realise that taking a break from technology more often will only enhance my productivity in 2017.
  • Everything is going to be ok: As the presidential polls closed, there was an eerie feeling on the boat: despair, fear, anger, confusion, shock. But the incredible Dolores Huerta and Sonia Sanchez took to the stage and reminded us that we’ve been here before. Nixon being elected, Kennedy being assassinated, George W. Bush. Crying about it didn’t help. People power did. It made me realise that the worst thing we can do as business owners or people is to latch onto fear and negativity. Times will be tough but we need to look at the solutions and be big picture.
Charbel Zeaiter, co-founder, Academy Xi

CharbelOne thing wish I had done differently…

Ben [Wong] and I started Academy Xi in January this year so there’s been plenty of challenges and plenty of things we’ve looked back on and thought, ‘geez, we wish that had been different.’

One of those things was hiring the right people, sooner. As founders it has been difficult at times to ‘let go’ at times. Trusting others to do the job to your standards can be tough but also rewarding if you find people who are better at certain tasks than you.

Four months ago we had 5 employees, now we have a team of fifteen. It really makes a difference.

Biggest learnings…

  • Find the best people with an aligned vision
  • Personally, the importance of time out and reflection
  • Personally and professionally, the importance of support and structure
  • Professionally, surrounding ourselves with talented, driven people who share our vision to change the world via education
Dr Kate Adams, founder, Thankly.com.au

DrkateOne thing wish I had done differently…

I would’ve launched Thankly earlier in the year. I also would have refined and developed the UX (user experience design) better – it’s an area that often isn’t done well and when building a tech business is just as important as marketing, branding or design.

Biggest learnings…

To succeed you need to focus. You can’t have a part time start-up and while you may have a million ideas, they are just ideas and you can’t act on all of them. A new business requires resilience and 200% commitment.

Also, If your idea doesn’t align with your values and you are not willing to put your money where your mouth is and give it your all, your setting yourself up for failure from the beginning.

Sage Greenwood, Managing Director, WINK Models

SageOne thing wish I had done differently…

Hiring and firing – definitely not my strong suit and being a small business we don’t have a HR department.

It’s a tough gig trying to get the right person for a particular role, especially when our requirements are so diverse and our industry is quite specific.

Firing is just as hard. When employees have been with you for a while, you get to know them on a more personal level which can make letting go of them even harder.

Biggest learnings…

One thing I’ve learnt from the above is to outsource the hiring function. We had an amazing consultant come in for our last hire and we couldn’t be happier with the candidate she recommended.

Moving from an employee of WINK Models to part owner and MD has taught me plenty this year, including,

  • There’s always someone younger and/or just as capable who’s willing to take your spot if you slack off. Push the line, work hard, and challenge the way things are done.
  • The world expects us to be online 24/7 these days, which is awesome for productivity and communication channels, not so great for relationships and down time. Working on balancing the two is a great skill, and something that I’m continuously working on.
  • Appreciate your team. It’s so easy to get caught up in wanting more, wanting to be bigger faster and stronger. But if you don’t celebrate your team when they do have little wins and help them feel appreciated, then the will to fight will just fall over.